Oysters are the most tender and delicate of all seafoods. They stay in bed all day and night. They never work or take exercise, are stupendous drinkers, and wait for their meals to come to them.
~Hector Bolitho

Another instance of less can really be more. Sort of in a quiet mollusk mode this evening, letting the water course over. Going for the basics from the bounty without much fanfare or meandering seemed the right direction. A simple concept, fruits de mer is translated (Fr–>Eng) as “fruits of the sea.” Traditionally, it is served cold on a broad platter and composed of both raw and cooked aquatic invertebrates, including such delights as oysters, shrimp, crab, mussels, scallops and clams. This fruits de mer tartare is purely au naturel and does irreverently include a flat swimmer in the yellowfin tuna.

Oysters, with their reputed aphrodisiac potency, have been a favorite of both lovers and food lovers over time, with Roman emperors paying for them by their weight in gold. Romans were so enthralled by these marvelous mollusks that they sent droves of slaves to the shores of the English Channel to do their dirty work and gather them.

It goes without saying that the freshness of your seafood is absolutely paramount when served naked. The usual caveat applies—know thy fishmonger intimately.

FRUITS DE MER TARTARE WITH GINGER & AVOCADO

12 oysters
10 diver sea scallops
2 oz fresh yellowfin tuna fillet

2 T fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 T chives, minced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lime
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Sliced fresh avocado
2-3 T champagne vinaigrette

Shuck oysters and place in medium bowl with their liquor. Rinse and dry scallops. Coarsely chop oysters, scallops and tuna, mix all together in the bowl and refrigerate for a few hours. Mix tartare with minced chives, chopped ginger, lemon and lime juice. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a splash of olive oil.

Serve over fanned out carefully sliced avocado which has been kindly doused with champagne vinaigrette.

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Elegant beurre blanc (French for “white butter”) involves “mounting with butter” which is the process of whisking in butter at the end of a sauce to add shine and flavor. Sounds a little like the scene in Last Tango in Paris? Paul (to Jeanne): “Get the butter…”

Debate exists about the origins of beurre blanc, one theory being that the Anjou region is the birthplace of this sauce having first been served at the restaurant La Poissonnière in Anger. The more favored version is that early in the 20th century, a chef named Clémence Lefeuvre first offered this shimmering sauce at her restaurant La Buvette de la Marine on the banks of the Loire near Nantes.

Beurre blanc does not reheat at all as it will break and separate. Do not allow the finished sauce to boil or even simmer and conversely do not allow the sauce to become so cold as to solidify. The whisking of the butter should take place shortly before plating or you can even keep the sauce in a thermos for a bit.

SEARED SCALLOPS WITH WILTED LEEKS AND TARRAGON

4 leeks (white and pale green parts only), rinsed and cleaned well, sliced thin lengthwise
2 T unsalted butter
3/4 C chicken stock

Beurre Blanc
2 C dry white wine
1 C white wine or champagne vinegar
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground white or black pepper
3 shallots, peeled and finely minced
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

8 fresh sea scallops (divers)
Sea salt and freshly ground white or black pepper
2 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil

2 T capers, drained, rinsed and patted dry
2 T fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
Fresh tarragon leaves to garnish

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and stock, salt and pepper and then simmer until leeks are very tender, almost wilted. Strain through sieve, transfer leeks to platter and tent with foil.

Boil wine, wine vinegar, salt pepper, shallots, thyme and bay leaves in small saucepan over medium heat until liquid is reduced to 4 tablespoons, about 15 minutes. Remove thyme and bay leaves and discard. Immediately whisk in half the butter, piece by piece, until it forms a creamy paste. Set saucepan over low heat and continue vigorously whisking in a piece of butter at a time just as the previous piece is almost fully incorporated. The sauce should have the consistency of a light hollandaise. Stir in capers and chopped tarragon. Remove from heat, season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, season scallops with salt and pepper. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add scallops and sauté until cooked, about 2 minutes per side.

Arrange leeks as nests in shallow soup bowls, drizzle with a little sauce and then top with scallops. Spoon sauce over scallops and garnish with fresh tarragon leaves.

SCALLOP PANCAKES, CREME FRAICHE & CAVIAR

1/4 lb. scallops, chopped
1 T fresh chives, minced

2 large organic, free range eggs
1/2 C all purpose flour
1/4 t baking powder
1/2 C club soda
1/2 t sea salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper

2 T peanut oil

Fresh chives, sliced lengthwise
Crème fraîche
Caviar or salmon roe

Whisk eggs in medium bowl. Add the flour, baking powder, club soda, salt, and pepper and stir until a batter forms. Stir in the scallops and chives.

Heat enough peanut oil to cover a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Spoon enough batter into the pan to form a 3-4″ diameter pancakes. Cook until lightly browned and then turn and cook the other side.

Serve garnished with a dollop of crème fraîche, a spoonful of caviar and chives; or serve or over a fresh frisée salad which has been tossed with a champagne vinaigrette.

CREME FRAICHE

2 C heavy whipping cream
4 T buttermilk

In a medium heavy saucepan over low heat, warm the cream, but do not simmer or boil. Remove from heat and stir in the buttermilk. Transfer the to a large bowl and allow to stand covered with plastic wrap until thickened but still of pouring consistency. Stir every 6 hours for one day. The crème fraîche is ready when it is thick with a slightly nutty sour taste. Chill in the refrigerator for several hours before using. Crème fraîche may be made and stored in a jar the refrigerator for up to one week.

Ceviche: Debated Ancestry

March 27, 2009

Ceviche, seviche or cebiche is a technique of marinating raw seafood in citrus, traditionally fresh lime juice. As with all great food…exalted simplicity. The fish is slightly “cooked” by the citric acid, which does not involve heat, but does impart subtle flavor. The citric acid denatures the proteins in the fish, unraveling the molecules and altering their chemical and physical properties. Bathing the fish in citrus juices turns the flesh firm and opaque.

As with sashimi, ceviche should be reserved for the absolutely freshest your fishmonger has to offer…and sustainable, less toxin-risky species should always be the goal (see Sustainable Seafood).

While many espouse that ceviche originated in Peru, there seem to be so many varied claims and theories on which country or historical era gave birth to this dish that landing on a solid postulate seems nearly impossible. Suffice it to say, ceviche appears to be native to Central and South America (but, stories persist about ceviche being the fancied, imported stepchild of Moorish women who immigrated to the Viceroyalty of Peru beginning in the 16th century). Such are the culinary conundrums created when civilizations merge, expand, disperse and vanish over time.

GINGER CEVICHE

1/2 lb fresh white fish, such as red snapper, sea bass, sole, flounder, grouper
1/2 lb scallops
Sea salt
3/4 C fresh lime juice
2 T fresh grapefruit juice
1-2 jalapeno chilies, seeded and finely diced
2 T fresh ginger, grated
Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

Chill several small serving plates in the freezer.

Carefully cut the fish horizontally into 1/8″ thick slices with a well sharpened and newly honed knife. Salt fish on both sides and place in a large flat bowl. Spoon the lime and grapefruit juice over the fish and toss with the chili, ginger and cilantro. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, preferably more. With a slotted spoon, transfer the fish to the chilled plates and serve.

Considered the most opulent of marine bivalve mollusks, ambrosial scallops are embarassingly simple to prepare. Undeserving of biblical scorn, these buttery sweet beings are considered sacred here.

Scallops are in the Phylum Mollusca, a group of animals that also includes snails, sea slugs, octopi, squid, clams, mussels and oysters. They live worldwide from intertidal zones to the deep seas. Graced with overdeveloped central adductor muscles (used to open and close the shell), they are active swimmers—the only migratory bivalve in the oceans. Propelled by the striated portion of that singular muscle, they swim by clapping their shells which forces a jet of water past the shell hinge.

Scallops have some sixty eyes that line its mantle. Often a brilliant blue hue, they detect light and motion. While some are singularly male or female, many are hermaphrodites. Imagine the shame of munching on a shellfish not only derided by the Old Testament but which also openly displays ambiguous sexuality. Double sin.

Unlike clams, oysters and other bivalves, scallops cannot hold their shells closed and cannot survive long out of water. Fishermen usually shuck them on the boat shortly after harvest. Most diners eat only the fleshy adductor muscle, while more astute devotees consume the entire animal, including the delectable bright red coral. Their dazzling fluted shells formed of calcium carbonate are highly coveted and have graced canvasses for centuries.

The word “scallop” derives from the name of an ancient Canaanite seaport, Ascalon.

While there are some 400 species, from a culinary perspective they are classified into two groups: bay scallops and sea scallops. Size and location govern the difference. Sea scallops (Placopecten magellanicus) are larger and are harvested from the open, deep ocean. Their smaller cousins, bay scallops (Argopecten irradians), have a shorter season and are gathered from the shallows closer to shore.

Diver scallops are hand plucked, as opposed to being rudely dragged across the bottoms by a clumsy net called a dredge which causes them to collect sand. So, divers tend to be less gritty, and the hand harvesting does not wreak havoc on undersea flora and fauna.

While most scallops that grace our plates are wild, both “on bottom” and “off bottom” farming is on the upswing. Because the farms do not rely on fishmeal or fish oil-based seeds and rarely use fertilizers and antibiotics, they represent little threat to the surrounding marine ecosystem.

A do bee fish in more than one way.

SCALLOPS WITH APPLE CIDER VINEGAR

8 sea scallops (divers)
1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter (divided equally)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 T shoyu or high quality soy sauce
1 T apple cider vinegar
1 T local, unprocessed honey

Chives, for garnish

In a heavy large nonstick skillet, combine the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter over moderately high heat. Once hot, add the scallops, spaced liberally, and cook until browned for about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, turn over and again cook until browned, for another 2 minutes or less. Overcooking leads to rubbery results.

With the scallops still in the pan, briefly deglaze with shoyu, the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, apple cider vinegar and honey. Quickly coat both sides of the scallops with the pan “sauce.”

Arrange scallops on shallow soup bowls and lightly drizzle with sauce. Strew several sprigs of chives on the plate, and serve promptly.